Exchange Matters / May 12, 2021

The Leadership Corner – May 2021

Katherine Brown, Ph.D., President & CEO

This last year forced us to confront and rethink the ways we work in the international exchange field. With the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on minority communities; the horrifying murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black citizens; and the rise of hate crimes and anti-immigrant bias against Asians and Asian Americans, we cannot ignore a host of chronic racial injustices within the United States. As international exchange professionals who work to reflect the United States to the world, we must look inward to ensure that we’re aiming to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive; and actively be part of the solution for racial justice that is long overdue within the United States.

This is at the heart of our work: Building and celebrating a more diverse workforce helps to inspire equitable solutions, which inspires trust, which builds feelings of inclusion and community. Listening to one another — not just the foreign visitors we bring to the United States, but to members within our communities — is essential for international exchange work to be meaningful and effective. We are fortunate to be working with so many of you within the larger Network to confront this moment.

Our collective missions have never been more urgent than now. The Biden Administration sees domestic policy closely intertwined with foreign policy. We believe that at the center of this is our extraordinary citizen and sub-national diplomacy network. The unique value you add in strengthening your communities and the U.S. economy through international exchanges, while also generating soft power for the United States, is critical if we are to build trust with our allies to tackle global challenges.

Moving values of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the center of our national dialogue is essential to being and projecting a truly open society to build that trust. As our colleague Crystal Kelch from the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) wrote in February, “As purveyors of information, it is incumbent upon all of us to portray an accurate depiction of the United States by exposing visitors to different communities, particularly those of color, and ideas that will help them shape their perspective of the nation and its citizenry. If we can engage international visitors with such compassion, we can certainly expand our outreach to Black and Brown professionals in this country to establish relationships and cultivate a more diverse array of resources for participants who can exchange ideas on a range of topics.”

We wholeheartedly agree. While they are overdue, we have two lines of effort underway to change how we work and create new norms: one within Global Ties U.S., and another within the Global Ties Network.

First, I want to share how we’re making changes within Global Ties U.S. Our organization has grown a lot over the last few years; we now have more than 20 full-time colleagues. But that size means our current leadership structure can no longer give human resource issues and our people the full attention they deserve. We need help in ensuring that our policies and daily actions live up to our team values to be mission-driven, transparent, collaborative, accountable, respectful, and supportive to — and of — one another.

Late last year, we completed a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion assessment with Nonprofit HR to examine the full lifecycle of our employee experience, determine our goals moving forward, and a build continuous plan to meet them. The assessment’s key findings were:

  • Team Diversity: We confirmed that we have opportunities to build a more diverse team and to ensure that we’re bringing a range of backgrounds and experiences to our programs and communications. White women are in the majority of our team and a little less than a third of our full-time colleagues represent minority communities. We can do better at attracting more diverse talent.
  • Team Inclusion: While 94% of our team feels like they belong at Global Ties U.S., we do have some work to do to ensure that we truly have an inclusive environment. We created a DEI Committee within the organization, which, for the time being, is focused on training on topics such as unconscious bias and microaggression so that we’re all aware of our words and actions and how they can negatively affect fellow team and Network members.
  • Team Equity: We will be hiring Human Resources support in FY 2022 to ensure we have a more equitable workplace. As mentioned, we’re too big of a team now to assure that we’re making good on our intentions for our colleagues and their experience here.

Most importantly, we want to take iterative steps in the process of creating new norms. The Global Ties U.S. Board will make addressing DEI issues within the organization a standing issue for the Executive Committee and the internal, team-based committee will be ongoing. We also will be sharing more details with the Network about how we change our practices and policies. We’re evaluating changes we can make toward implementing our exchange programs, including the Emerging Leaders program, which we want to help build a pipeline of diverse talent for the larger international exchange and public diplomacy fields.

We are also benefitting tremendously from the expertise and partnership of our Community-Based Member (CBM) and National Program Agency (NPA) colleagues as you all are going through your own DEI processes.

That leads me to the second line of effort: Building a community of practice within the Global Ties Network and creating a DEI Working Group as part of our work with the Office of International Visitors for the foreseeable future. Starting in 2022, this will more formally be part of our scope of work for member services and program support. We, along with our partners at the U.S. Department of State, want to ensure that the International Visitor Leadership Program and other exchange programs are part of the solution for racial equity.

The inaugural DEI Working Group, which kicked off on May 7, includes 11 Community-Based Member representatives, eight National Program Agency representatives, and one Office of International Visitors representative. We’ve brought in Ahli Moore from X-Factor Solutions to help facilitate the initial process. CBM representatives are from small, mid-sized, and larger members across the country and have a range of experiences with the IVLP. Long-term, the goals of the working group are to ensure the IVLP is implemented with DEI top-of-mind, while also sharing how we’ve changed our organizations through these processes. For this first group, we’re focused on building definitions and short-term goals, and we expect to have several conversations with all of you during the year.

We expect the group to change members annually. There is no end date, as this work will be ongoing indefinitely so that we can create a new normal for how we collectively address our work. Outcomes from this working group will be central to Global Ties U.S. operations, programming, member services, and communications moving forward.

I personally know I have a lot to learn if I’m going to help Global Ties U.S. live up to our values, and that this work should have started years ago. I also know that by making this commitment to meaningfully change how we approach our work, who we engage, and how we treat them, that we will continue to learn, adapt, and grow.

Thank you to all of you who are working with us on this. Please share with us your stories of changes you’re making so that we can build this community of practice, and we promise to continue to share with you what we learn as well.